Monday, April 22, 2013

The First Year: Breastfeeding

So here we are. Officially over one year into this motherhood journey. I had a lot of grand plans for all these reflective blog posts in the weeks leading up to Ellie's birthday, but work and life got in the way and there just wasn't enough time to be thoughtful. But, better late than never, right? I set out to do one hodge-podge post about all sorts of things, but hey, it ran long. I'm not known for my brevity, you know. So I decided to split it up into several different posts, to include: Breastfeeding, Impressions of Motherhood, and Physical and Emotional Changes. Many of these topics are questions that have been posed to me in the last month or so, by Eric, friends or family. Some are just things that have been on my mind. So, here we go, part one:


Quiet moments for the whole family while nursing Ellie in her first days at home

I always enjoy reading bloggers' accounts of their breastfeeding experiences, because it is so different for everyone. So I thought I should share a little bit about my experience.

But first, my breastfeeding advice: if you're going to do it, don't say you'll try. Do it. Decide if it's really important to you and do everything you can to make it work. Beforehand, read everything you can get your hands on about it. Go to the classes. Go to La Leche League meetings. Talk to your friends and relatives who have done it. Get your husband on board - have him do the reading and go to the classes too. I was unsure if Eric really needed to do all that, because isn't breastfeeding really just my thing? What could he really do? The answer is tons. A supportive partner is incredibly helpful. In our case, right off the bat we had a very negative encounter with a lactation consultant at the hospital. She wasn't listening to our questions and was creating problems that weren't there. If we had been uninformed - or rather, if Eric had been uninformed - less than 24 hours after Ellie's birth I would have been using a nipple shield and supplementing with formula. Needlessly. And at that point, I was too tired/out of it/worn down to fight this consultant's strong suggestions. But Eric wasn't. He knew his stuff and he was able to speak up for both Ellie and me, saving us unnecessary interventions and getting us off to a great start on our breastfeeding journey. When I think of how successful we've been, I know that I owe so much of it to Eric's advocacy that first day in the hospital.

And aside from situations like that, having a partner who supports you is so helpful in general. In the early days, Eric would bring Ellie to me and help me get her latched properly while I was still too sore from my recovery to do it myself. He would bring me food or water as needed as I nursed. He made sure I was comfortable and kept on me to stay hydrated. He sympathized when it hurt and helped me figure out what I could do to alleviate the discomfort. He regularly expressed his appreciation for what I was doing, and that made me feel so great.

Now, I know of course that some people do all they can to prepare and give breastfeeding their best shot and it just doesn't work, for any number of reasons. I get that. Heck, I understand that fully if you translate that to my birth story. "The best laid plans," and all that. My point is simply to do the best you can to ensure your success - commit yourself, be informed, get a support network behind you, know what to expect and what is/isn't true when making decisions about how to proceed. With all that in place, you give yourself the best possible odds at making it work.

After my crazy labor and delivery ordeal, breastfeeding was the first thing that went right for us. Our amazing doula helped me get Ellie latched in the recovery room, and from that moment on she nursed like a champ. That's not to say there weren't tough times. I consider myself as having had a really easy time with breastfeeding but still, there were days that it hurt. I was engorged. The leakage...oh, the leakage. I dealt with a blocked duct or two. I went through about a week where my nipples hurt so badly every time Ellie latched, Eric could see the pain on my face. For a long time, even the feeling of my milk letting down hurt somewhat - sort of a burning, tingly sensation. We never had latch issues, I never had thrush or mastitis or things like that (knock on wood). But still, there were plenty of days that it wasn't easy.

In addition to the physical discomforts, I have had a few friends describe feeling "trapped" by breastfeeding and I definitely get that. You're at your baby's constant beck and call. You can never just up and leave for any real length of time - at least not without careful planning and lots of pumping. If baby is hungry in the middle of the night, you're the one who gets up (in fairness to Eric, in Ellie's  younger days he was great about getting up, changing her and delivering her to me in bed, so it was a good division of labor and each of us was just as tired as the other. Now that she's older, however, I'm the one to take care of night wakings, because it's just faster that way). In the beginning, there are growth spurts where it seems as though the baby is attached to you CONSTANTLY. I remember having days where I would feel like I had just finished feeding Ellie, and I would look down at her and she'd be rooting around again, turning her head side to side with her mouth open, and I would think, omg, SERIOUSLY? It was exhausting.

So needless to say, if you're not well-prepared and/or fully committed to breastfeeding (and frankly, even if you are), there are lots of ways to be overcome. I feel like I was blessed with the perfect situation: I was a stay-at-home mom (so little need to pump), with a super supportive husband, thoroughly committed to this plan, with little to no complications, no latch issues, etc. And still, there were days that I wondered how I would ever make it to my goal of nursing for a year. Someone gave me the advice to never quit on your worst day, and I think that's very wise advice. Because some days I would think it was all perfect and others I would feel overwhelmed by the whole thing. But everything I had done to prepare - getting informed, getting Eric informed and on board, finding support groups and resources to turn to for help and advice - it all kept me encouraged and plodding along. So I just focused on taking it day by day for the first few weeks (maybe even the first month or two).

Then somehow, at some point, it just got better. All of a sudden, nothing hurt. I didn't need to wear breastpads constantly anymore. I even stopped noticing the letdowns. Ellie stopped needing to eat constantly and I felt like I got a little of my freedom back. It just got easy. And that has how it has been for the vast majority of our year plus of nursing. Now more than ever, it is something Ellie and I both enjoy. Selfishly, I love those quiet moments with my otherwise incredibly active baby-turned-toddler. For just a few minutes a few times a day, she is still, laying in my arms like she did when she was brand new. I still love to look down and see her blue eyes looking up at me, and I feel such tenderness and love for her. It is such an unbelievable bond. And if she's feeling a bit playful, sometimes we play games together while she nurses - peek-a-boo or tickling, or she'll reach up and touch my face and I'll make silly noises to make her giggle. It's such treasured quiet time together.

Aside from that, it's just easy. I always have nourisment for her, whenever and wherever we are. I know she is getting the nutrition she needs, even when she's in the throes of a "Throw All Food On the Floor Phase" as she is now. It gives her just the right balance of nutrients to sustain her increasingly active self. It soothes her if she's upset, it heals her if she's sick, it lulls her to sleep at night. It is exactly what she needs, always. And it is such an incredible feeling to know that I am able to do that for her.

Not only have I just enjoyed the experience of nursing, but I am left in awe of the human body. Ladies, our bodies can do some amazing things. For instance, did you know that breastmilk changes in makeup as the baby ages, to constantly be meeting their exact needs? Did you know that breastmilk can cure eye infections, or be used in place of saline solution when the little one is congested? Did you know that if you have recently weaned, and then are faced with an excessively stressful situation, you can actually relactate to make sure your baby is fed (this information was being passed around Hoboken moms in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy, when the power was out and food and heat were at a premium)? The body is so incredible. I have to admit, I have been so fascinated by it I have tossed around the idea of becoming a lactation consultant myself, both to learn more about it and to share that knowledge with other women, and to do my best to help them have the positive breastfeeding experience I have had. We'll see if anything comes of it, but for now, we'll just say that I think the whole thing is very, very cool.

My goal was to make it to a year of nursing. We've reached and surpassed that goal now, and I'm not sure how long we'll go. Ellie certainly doesn't show any signs of eagerness to self-wean, and I'm not in any rush either. So, we continue on, cherishing every minute of it.

Sleepy, milk-drunk 3-month-old Ellie

1 comment:

Lauren said...

Thanks so much for sharing your story, the body truly is amazing wow! I intend to breastfeed one day so thanks for all the insight!